History's most epic flameouts
March 30, 2012 5:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of rants by historical figures, preferably pre-twentieth century, the more unhinged and colorful the better.

I shall be compelled to make an example of some of them if they cannot find no other employment If I had robbed and plundered ravished and murdered everything I met young and old rich and poor. the public could not do any more than take firearms and Assisting the police as they have done, but by the light that shines pegged on an ant-bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot will be fool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the Police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or cad or those who would be so deprived as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human buriel their property either consumed or confiscated and them theirs and all belonging to them exterminated off the face of the earth, the enemy I cannot catch myself I shall give a payable reward for,
That's from the Jerilderie Letter, as dictated by the bushranger Ned Kelly. It's an example of the kind of thing I'm looking for. I'm also happy to have stuff that is merely attributed to someone, rather than their own words.

WWI and before please. Otherwise it would probably be all Hitler Hitler Hitler.

I'm definitely NOT looking for Protocols of the Elders of Zion-type calculated craziness or Timecube-style mental illness. I'm also not looking for anything said by someone who is still alive.
posted by Ritchie to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
The second Phillipic by Cicero, especially the bits about Antony's whoring himself out, and Cicero's invective against Piso. Also the (fake) invective against Cicero by Sallust and its equally fake reply.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:12 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but pretty much the whole books of Isaiah and Jeremiah are long drawn-out rants (we even get the word jeremiad from the latter.
posted by Mchelly at 5:13 AM on March 30, 2012

A Counterblaste to Tobacco by King James VI of Scotland and I of England is a classic.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:49 AM on March 30, 2012

"The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women" by John Knox, published in 1558.

For who can denie but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shal be appointed to leade and conduct such as do see? That the weake, the sicke, and impotent persones shall norishe and kepe the hole and strong, and finallie, that the foolishe, madde and phrenetike shal gouerne the discrete, and giue counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be al women, compared vnto man in bearing of authoritie. For their sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.
posted by lungtaworld at 5:56 AM on March 30, 2012

Although it's only one sentence I would suggest Cato the Elder axe-grinding against Carthage. He stuck this onto anything and everything he said in the Senate, no matter the topic.
posted by Partario at 6:07 AM on March 30, 2012

The Martin Luther Insult Generator will be a gold mine for you.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:13 AM on March 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

You might consider previous US political campaigning. Recently popular are some quotes from Jefferson and Adams from their Presidential race. Google it (I used "campaign video Adams Jefferson" to find it again) for videos and commentary. As I recall the Douglas-Lincoln contest got a little heated as well.
posted by attercoppe at 6:14 AM on March 30, 2012

Seconding Martin Luther, although more specifically his pamphlet called On the Jews and Their Lies. Not a conspiracy like the Protocols, but among the most rabid, sputtering outpourings of hate in the history of Western letters.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:27 AM on March 30, 2012

George Fox's "Woe unto the bloody City of Lichfield", though I have my doubts about Fox's sanity sometimes.
posted by scruss at 6:55 AM on March 30, 2012

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

 — Noah S. Sweat, April 4, 1952 at the old King Edward Hotel in Jackson during a legislative debate on repealing the prohibition.
posted by Theiform at 7:24 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Half of the Declaration of Independence consists of a list of the bad shit the British were doing to the American colonies, and explains what the colonists have tried to do about it, but sums up that the entirety of the British people have been "deaf to the voice of justice."

About the British crown: "A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:44 AM on March 30, 2012

Noah S. Sweat

Someone was actually named "Noah Sweat"? That's wonderful.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:53 AM on March 30, 2012

I made a post a while back about the froth-mouthed notes that Blake scribbled in the margins of his copy of The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
posted by Iridic at 8:14 AM on March 30, 2012

How has Jonathon Swifts A Modest Proposal not made it here already.

I should point out that what you call "rant" used to be called "satire" in them olden times. You know, back when people didnt just yell loudly, but used the English language eloquently and sometimes poetically to explain their point. Hmmm.
posted by elendil71 at 8:42 AM on March 30, 2012

I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened, they revolt me. That white round thing without any holes … have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it.
-Alfred Hitchcock
posted by sexyrobot at 8:48 AM on March 30, 2012

Perhaps Bartolomé de Las Casas' "Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies" falls into the sort of thing you're looking for? It's an account of the atrocities committed by Spaniards in the early days of the conquest of the New World, written in 1542 and first translated into English in 1583. I'm not sure if the Project Guttenberg text is the earliest English translation, but it is certainly an early one and full of the "historical" flavor you may seek.

Here's a good little snippet:

I desire therefore that the Readers who have or shall peruse these passages, would please seriously to consider whether or no, such Barbarous, Cruel and Inhumane Acts as these do not transcend and exceed all the impiety and tyrrany, which can enter into the thoughts or imagination of Man, and whether these Spaniards deserve not the name of Devils. For which of these two things is more eligible or desirable whether the Indians should be delivered up to the Devils themselves to be tormented or the Spaniards? That is still a question.

Nor can I here omit one piece of Villany, (whether it ought to be postpon'd or come behind the cruelty of Brute Animals, that I leave to decision). The Spaniards who are conversant among the Indians bred up curst Curs, who are so well instructed and taught that they at first sight, fly upon the Inhabitants tearing them limb by limb, and so presently devour them. Now let all persons whether Christians or not consider, if ever such a thing as this reacht the ears of any Man, they carry these Dogs with them as Companions where ever they go, and kill the fettered Indians in multitudes like Hogs for their Food; thus sharing with them in the Butchery....What I beseech you, can be more horrid or barbarous?

posted by drlith at 8:50 AM on March 30, 2012

I wouldn't exactly call it a rant, but Mefi taught me about this wonderful little gem from Catullus, wherein he uses his Latin poetry like he's in a rap battle.
posted by Lifeson at 9:11 AM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

The speech by Louis Lingg at the Haymarket trial in 1887.
I repeat that I am the enemy of the "order" of today, and I repeat that, with all my powers, so long as breath remains in me, I shall combat it. I declare again, frankly and openly, that I am in favor of using force. I have told Captain Schaack, and I stand by it, "IF YOU CANNONADE US, we shall dynamite you." You laugh! Perhaps you think, "You'll throw no more bombs;" but let me assure you that I die happy on the gallows, so confident am I that the hundreds and thousands to whom I have spoken will remember my words; and when you shall have hanged us, then, mark my words, they will do the bomb-throwing! In this hope do I say to you: "I despise you. I despise your order; your laws; your force-propped authority." HANG ME FOR IT!
posted by perhapses at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2012

No one did unhinged rants better than the Church Fathers. Tertullian's treatise Against Marcion is a great piece of invective:

The Euxine Sea, as it is called, is self-contradictory in its nature, and deceptive in its name. As you would not account it hospitable from its situation, so is it severed from our more civilised waters by a certain stigma which attaches to its barbarous character. The fiercest nations inhabit it, if indeed it can be called habitation, when life is passed in waggons. They have no fixed abode; their life has no germ of civilization; they indulge their libidinous desires without restraint, and for the most part naked. Moreover, when they gratify secret lust, they hang up their quivers on their car-yokes to warn off the curious and rash observer. Thus without a blush do they prostitute their weapons of war. The dead bodies of their parents they cut up with their sheep, and devour at their feasts. They who have not died so as to become food for others, are thought to have died an accursed death. Their women are not by their sex softened to modesty. They uncover the breast, from which they suspend their battle-axes, and prefer warfare to marriage. In their climate, too, there is the same rude nature. The day-time is never clear, the sun never cheerful; the sky is uniformly cloudy; the whole year is wintry; the only wind that blows is the angry North. Waters melt only by fires; their rivers flow not by reason of the ice; their mountains are covered with heaps of snow. All things are torpid, all stiff with cold. Nothing there has the glow of life, but that ferocity which has given to scenic plays their stories of the sacrifices of the Taurians, and the loves of the Colchians, and the torments of the Caucasus. Nothing, however, in Pontus is so barbarous and sad as the fact that Marcion was born there, fouler than any Scythian, more roving than the waggon-life of the Sarmatian, more inhuman than the Massagete, more audacious than an Amazon, darker than the cloud of Pontus, colder than its winter, more brittle than its ice, more deceitful than the Ister, more craggy than Caucasus. Nay more, the true Prometheus, Almighty God, is mangled by Marcion's blasphemies. Marcion is more savage than even the beasts of that barbarous region. For what beaver was ever a greater emasculator than he who has abolished the nuptial bond? What Pontic mouse ever had such gnawing powers as he who has gnawed the Gospels to pieces? Verily, O Euxine, thou hast produced a monster more credible to philosophers than to Christians. For the cynic Diogenes used to go about, lantern in hand, at mid-day to find a man; whereas Marcion has quenched the light of his faith, and so lost the God whom he had found.
posted by verstegan at 10:22 AM on March 30, 2012

I have one by Samuel Clemens, but I'm not sure I'd call it a flameout. I think he was just getting warmed up.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:45 AM on March 30, 2012

Erasmus kills it.

For these kind of men that are so given up to the study of wisdom are generally most unfortunate, but chiefly in their children; Nature, it seems, so providently ordering it, lest this mischief of wisdom should spread further among mankind. For which reason it is manifest why Cicero's son was so degenerate, and that wise Socrates' children, as one has well observed, were more like their mother than their father, that is to say, fools.

In Praise of Folly (1509).

Lord Clark's overview of the Reformation might get you a few more leads.
posted by obscurator at 12:47 PM on March 30, 2012

"Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re fooling around.”

Last words of Carl Panzram, immediately preceded by "Are there any Bible-backed cock-suckers in here?"

Some choice quotes here.

Some more strong words:

"I look forward to a seat in the electric chair or dance at the end of a rope just like some folks do for their wedding night. I prefer to die that way, and if I have a soul and if that soul should burn in Hell for a million years, still I prefer that to a lingering, agonizing death in some prison dungeon or a padded cell in a mad house. The only thanks you or your kind will ever get from me for your efforts on my behalf is that I wish you all had one neck and that I had my hands on it... I have no desire to reform myself. My only desire is to reform people who try to reform me, and I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill'em."

- from his May 23, 1930 letter to the Society for the Abolishment of Capital Punishment
posted by BigSky at 1:02 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the introduction to Ben Hecht's
Fantazius Mallare-
not 19th c., but otherwise fits your criteria....
"This dark and wayward book is affectionately dedicated to my enemies—to the curious ones who take fanatic pride in disliking me; to the baffling ones who remain enthusiastically ignorant of my existence; to the moral ones upon whom Beauty exercises a lascivious and corrupting influence; to the moral ones who have relentlessly chased God out of their bedrooms; to the moral ones who cringe before Nature, who flatten themselves upon prayer rugs, who shut their eyes, stuff their ears, bind, gag and truss themselves and offer their mutilations to the idiot God they Twelvehave invented (the Devil take them, I grow bored with laughing at them); to the anointed ones who identify their paranoic symptoms as virtues, who build altars upon complexes; to the anointed ones who have slain themselves and who stagger proudly into graves (God deliver Himself from their caress!);"
there's more. Breathtaking!
posted by drhydro at 1:09 PM on March 30, 2012

I found this at wikipedia, I think I read it somewhere else though, years ago:

Daniel Defoe relates that a pirate named Captain Bellamy made this speech to the captain of a merchant vessel he had taken as a prize. Bellamy had wanted to let the captain keep his ship, but his crew had voted to burn the sloop. The captain of the merchant vessel had just declined an invitation to join the pirates.

"I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a mischief, when it is not to my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by knavery; but damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make then one of us, than sneak after these villains for employment?"

When the captain replied that his conscience would not let him break the laws of God and man, the pirate Bellamy continued:

"You are a devilish conscience rascal! I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this my conscience tells me! But there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure."

Hunky, eh?
posted by thylacinthine at 7:47 PM on March 30, 2012

Jack London despised scabs:
After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.

Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles...
posted by Abiezer at 10:20 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all great!
posted by Ritchie at 5:08 AM on March 31, 2012

I just found out about Archbishop Dunbar of Glasgow's epic “Monition of Cursing Against the Border Reivers” or Great Cursing, which is pages long, but includes (excerpted, in translation):

Here fore, through the authority of Almighty God, the Father of Heaven, His Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost; through the authority of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Mary, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and all the angels …

I denounce, proclaim and declare all the committers of the said senseless murders, … generally CURSED, denounced, execrated, in sum total, with the GREAT CURSING.

I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.

I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants …

May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them.

And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.
It was written in 1524, but the flecks of spittle are not yet dry.
posted by scruss at 6:49 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just came across this one. Ignatius L Donnelly was a Republican congressman for Minnesota's Second Congressional District. He went on to become a proto-conspiracist with nutball ideas about Atlantis, cryptology, pseudo-science, and so on. In 1868 he delivered a speech in Congress to rebut charges of impropriety made against him by Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne:

"If anywhere on God's earth, down in the mire of filth and nastiness, [Washburne] can pluck up anything that touches my honor, let it come. I shall meet it on its merits. I have gone through the entire cataloge; I have analyzed the contents of the gentleman's foul stomach. I have dipped my hand into its gall; I have examined the half-digested fragments that I have found floating in the gastric juices; but if it is possible for the peristaltic actions of the gentleman from Illinois to bring up anything more loathsome, more disgusting than he has vomited over me [already], in God's name, let it come... If there be in our midst one low, sordid, vulgar soul; one barren, mediocre intelligence; one heart callous to every kindly sentiment and every generous impulse, one tongue leprous with slander; one mouth which like unto a den of foul beast giving forth deadly odors; if there be one character which, while blotched and spotted all over, yet raves and rants and blackguards like a prostitute; if there be one bold, bad, empty bellowing demagogue, it is the gentleman from Illinois."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:41 PM on April 4, 2012

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